Calling it important to wear sunscreen is kind of like saying it’s important to drink water and breathe. Whether you live in Miami or Fargo, the sun has the unique ability to both give and sustain life, but also wreak havoc on your skin meaning a lotion with SPF isn’t a luxury–it’s a necessity.
And yes, this is also true for those of us with sensitive skin. Although the banner term sensitive skin encompasses a slew of issues that range from itchy, dry skin to skin that breaks out in pimples, the solution should never, ever be to skip SPF for fear that it will cause further irritation.
If you find yourself wandering through the drugstore unsure of whether to spring for SPF 15 or SPF 30 (didn’t you once hear somewhere that a higher SPF can cause breakouts?) allow this fact to ease your worries: there is a big difference in terms of sun protection between SPF 15 and 30, but less so between SPF 30 and 50. According to Dr. Tanya Kormeili, it isn’t so much the SPF you should worry about, but the chemicals that are present in certain sunscreens, which are known to damage skin. When choosing a sunscreen for sensitive skin, your best bet is to stick with a physical sunscreen like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than one loaded with chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can cause allergic reactions and even disrupt hormones. “People with sensitive skin often find that some sunscreens can cause skin irritation or will even develop dermatitis, which can be a reaction to either fragrance, a preservative, or a chemical in the product they’re using,” adds Dr. David E. Bank, author and founder and director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery. “I suggest that you test any new product on a small area of your body, such as the forearm, before applying all over to see if you have a reaction.”
Another ingredient to be wary of? PABA, also known as para-aminobenzoic acid. “This is an active sunscreen agent that approximately 1 to 5 percent of the population is allergic to. If you are allergic, you must definitely use a PABA-free products,” Bank advises.
Banks also suggests people with sensitive skin always use a facial moisturizer, even in the summer or in sunny weather, as it works to keep the skin’s barrier intact to protect against wind, sun, sweat, and salt water. Additionally, he recommends choosing mineral-based sunscreens for broad spectrum protection, which you should re-apply every 2 hours.
Looking for specific product recs? Here are 5 sunscreens to try, specially formulated for sensitive skin.
1. Vanicream Sunscreen Sensitive Skin, SPF 30. This broad spectrum sunscreen shields your skin from both UVA and UVB rays (which is the very definition of “broad spectrum,” by the way, and something you should always look for in any sunscreen) and is made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
2. Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 30. We love mineral formulas that offer full coverage and protect against UVA and UVB rays; we love them even more when they come in an adorable and convenient brush package that makes it easy to apply throughout the day.
3. Dermalogica Super Sensitive Shield SPF 30. Like a big, sweet hug and kiss for your sensitive skin, this mineral formula protects against the sun and delivers its UltraCalmingTM Complex with oat and botanical actives to soothe and hydrate your skin.
4. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive, SPF 30+. This formula is free of fragrances and chemicals and safe for sensitive skin–but it’s also wickedly thoughtful and cool because the bottle actually lights up blue when it is hit by UV rays, almost like an alarm that reminds you to take cover and dutifully apply your sunscreen.
5. Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 60. Neutrogena is a reliable old friend when it comes to taking care of your sensitive skin issues and this sunscreen doesn’t disappoint; it has a titanium dioxide and zinc oxide base, is free of oil, fragrances, and chemicals, and is hypoallergenic and PABA-free.
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